Community Relations; an arts administrator’s art & family

I saw some amazing things at the March 5th First Friday. This event was highly anticipated by the ArtsLehigh program, as it was the opening of a unique art installation in six storefronts along East Third Street.  The installation is one of a four-part series of art experiences dedicated to Women’s History month.

This blog post is not about the creation of the art – but of the installation. There is an “art” to this as well. Some administrators may find the work necessary to realize another person’s artistic vision to be labor intensive. Perhaps it is challenging; or, downright TEDIOUS. I live for it! It’s almost like the role of a mid-wife. We encourage the curators and the artists. But on another level, we strive to assure community partner comfort with the experiments. This is a vital part to our institution’s evolving relationships with multiple constituents in our local community.

The local constituents referred to in this post are the merchants of central South Bethlehem. They were always open to the installation idea. But the artists had to find a balance between their work and the stores’ identity to their customers.  After the initial installation in one of the stores, the artist was only able to partially complete it. The store had a big, black shroud over the street-facing window. The store looked closed. It was a shroud of retail death. It worried us all. Hours before opening, the artist finished the installation with a beautiful cut away – which now makes the installation even more intriguing, and the merchant – very happy.

Here’s a little secret. The incomplete installation wasn’t a good signal to passers by. While the store looked closed, the merchant was patient. All the other merchants expressed concerns about it; and shared them with me directly.  It was the way they looked out for their neighbor that told me this is a real family on 3rd street.

There’s another family on west Fourth Street. See, First Friday goes up there, too. I stopped by HomeBase skate shop to check in with my friend Andy Po. He was in the middle of surprise for one of their loyal customers. When I saw the post on his website this morning – my heart grew even greater for this store and this community. I was so moved by my affection – I came back for a haircut at Eskandalo the next day.

The South Side merchant family is why I’m proud to wear my Bethlehem citizen badge. And the joy in my work is why I’m satisfied.

Gentle reader, if you want to know more about the art, I would direct you to the One Stone Collective website for the 3rd street installation. The installation runs until March 27th. And if you haven’t yet voted for the Pepsi Refresh Project funding for the Bethlehem Skatepark – Please click here: bookmark it and vote every day. Our city’s chance for $250,000 runs out March 31st.


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